Triad graphically portrays the intensities of adolescence and yet again MacMillan created an ‘outsider’ figure, one left behind. There are three central characters, two brothers and a girl. Her arrival disrupts the very intense relationship between the brothers. The elder (Anthony Dowell) tries to impress the girl and cynically pushes his junior (Wayne Eagling) into the clutches of a gang of young toughs (with whom the girl arrived) who beat him up. He then has a dalliance with the Eve-like newcomer (Antoinette Sibley). Driven by resentments he can barely understand the younger brother lashes out. But dawning sexuality has undone childhood sweetness. The elder has been swept across the threshold of eroticism and the younger must wait outside.

Richard Buckle was struck by the Cain and Abel like resonances of a pas de trois for Sibley, Dowell and Eagling and thought Triad showed MacMillan to be at the height of his powers. “Second sight of Triad”, Buckle wrote in hisSunday Times column “leaves me in no doubt that it is MacMillan’s best ballet. The slides, the curious standing-sitting manège, the tangled knots of choreography resolved in extensions, the partings of the lovers’ bodies by the probing brother – so many inventive passages of dance, together with the drama caused by Dowell’s tenderness for his brother Eagling and the rejection of him in favour of the vampire Sibley – all seem to spring so naturally from the contorted hysteria of Prokofiev’s violin concerto.”

To some eyes the designs subverted the intent of MacMillan’s choreography. Because Peter Unsworth in the original production costumed the dancers in patterned white body tights, several critics thought the impact excessively balletic. Mary Clarke of Dancing Times complained of a design tendency to make all new ballets look as if they are about ballet dancers than about real people. To The Observer’sAlexander Bland all the dancers were all dressed like sprites. “Even the three toughs looked like they had strayed from somewhere at the bottom of the Garden.”

But even if the raw hurt of reality was somehow lost in the telling or masked in the costuming, the ballet had much to tease the eye, with a cast at “top classical trim” (Bland) and choreography which for Philip Hope-Wallace of The Guardian was “the real right thing”. And after the opening night, Ninette de Valois, the Royal Ballet’s founder sent MacMillan a telegram. It read simply: 'For me your finest work.'

  • First performance: Covent Garden, London, 19 January 1972

  • Company: The Royal Ballet

  • Cast: Antoinette Sibley, Anthony Dowell, Wayne Eagling, David Ashmole, Peter O’Brien, Gary Sherwood.

  • Music: Sergei Prokofiev, Violin Concert No.1

  • Design: Peter Unsworth (redesigned Deborah MacMillan 2001)

  • Benesh notation score: Monica Parker (1972). Preliminary Master Score

  • Video: NVC Arts, American Ballet Theater at the Met (B00008AORF)